During these uncertain and challenging times, the Marlborough LitFest is delighted that its first patron, Sir Simon Russell Beale CBE, will be providing some light relief with readings from 19th-century Wiltshire nature writer, Richard Jefferies, on the Festival’s website and social media platforms: Twitter: @MarlbLitFest Facebook: www.facebook.com/MarlboroughLitFest Instagram: @marlboroughlitfest.

The critically acclaimed actor of stage and screen, who was knighted in October 2019, now lives locally and has visited the Festival a number of times, appearing in 2016 prior to playing Prospero in the RSC’s production of The Tempest at Stratford.

Richard Jefferies was a Victorian nature writer, renowned for his depiction of English rural life in essays, articles and philosophical offerings as well as being a novelist for children and adults. He grew up on a small Wiltshire farm near Swindon in the village of Coate, which heavily influenced his writing; the farmhouse is now a museum open to the public. The Richard Jefferies Society and The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough award an annual prize for nature writing, cementing Jefferies’ literary legacy to a genre that has become increasingly popular. For more information visit the website.

John Price, a Vice-President of The Richard Jefferies Society, said: “The Richard Jefferies Society is delighted and honoured that Sir Simon has agreed to record these passages from Jefferies’ writings. We hope that this initiative will bring our local writer’s work to the attention of a new generation of readers, and that listeners may find enjoyment and solace in the extracts.”

Simon Russell Beale said: “As Patron of The Marlborough Litfest, I thought I would try to lighten the mood in this extraordinary time by reading from a local Victorian nature writer, Richard Jefferies – a literary walk in Savernake Forest, perhaps.”

The Marlborough LitFest Chair, Genevieve Clarke, said: “Everyone needs to be reminded of the solace and inspiration that nature can provide, especially if they can’t get out into it themselves at the moment. It’s wonderful to be able to offer this literary treat.”

The Marlborough LitFest is still aiming to hold its Festival from 24-27 September 2020 but is keeping the situation under constant review.  In the meantime, the Festival is keen to find ways that its friends and supporters in Marlborough and far beyond can use reading to bridge the social distancing that everyone must abide by. The LitFest has already launched its Love Books Competition for adults and young people with English Literature at Bath Spa University. Entrants should explain their choice of favourite book, poem or play in either 750 words or in a video (no more than four minutes).

Open to three age groups: 13-16, 17-19 and 20+, judges will be looking for creative, passionate and engaging responses to celebrate the entries’ love of reading. The winner in each age group will be given £300; runners-up will each receive £100. The competition judges include Judy Carver (daughter of William Golding), Professor Neil Sammells, deputy Vice-Chancellor of Bath Spa University and Jan Williamson (ex-Chair of Marlborough LitFest). Entries close on 17 July; for more information on the competition, visit the  www.lovebookscompetition.orgwebsite.

The Marlborough LitFest would like to thank its lead sponsor Brewin Dolphin and its events sponsors: Hiscox Insurance, William Golding Limited, Marlborough College, St Francis School, and Marlborough.news, as well as Hamilton Trust, Katharine House Gallery, The Arts Society Kennet & Swindon, Haine and Smith, The White Horse Bookshop and Wiltshire Life for their continued support to the festival.


Images: The Richard Jeffries Society